Trump Turns on Ramaswamy, Telling Iowans ‘Don’t Get Duped’

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(Bloomberg) -- Former President Donald Trump trained his sights on rival Vivek Ramaswamy, casting him as a threat to his Make America Great Again movement in what appeared to be a shift in strategy two days before the Iowa caucuses.

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“Vote for ‘TRUMP,’ don’t waste your vote! Vivek is not MAGA,” Trump said as he arrived in Iowa on Saturday night. The comments, which appeared in a social media post, ended what had been an informal marriage of convenience with the 38-year-old Ohio entrepreneur and first-time political candidate.

Iowans on Monday will cast the first votes in the 2024 presidential nominating process during a caucus that’s likely to show depressed turnout because of historically frigid weather. Trump, who is kicking off his in-person pre-caucus push on Saturday with a virtual event at 7:30 p.m. New York time, continues to lead the field by an average of 34 percentage points.

An Iowa State University/Civiqs poll this week found that Ramaswamy was getting only 8% support but was the second choice of 30% of Iowa Republicans. Ramaswamy has campaigned aggressively in the state, visiting all 99 counties at least twice in a feat he called the “Double Grassley” after Iowa’s senior senator.

With Trump boycotting primary debates, Ramaswamy had served as a stand-in for Trump’s policies during bouts on stage with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Trump allies praised Ramaswamy after his performances — as they trained attacks on DeSantis and Haley — fueling speculation that he could be Trump’s running mate.

But no more.

“Vivek started his campaign as a great supporter,” Trump told followers on his platform Truth Social. “Unfortunately, now all he does is disguise his support in the form of deceitful campaign tricks. Very sly, but a vote for Vivek is a vote for the ‘other side’ — don’t get duped by this.”

Ramaswamy responded by suggesting that Republicans needed a back-up plan to prevent a more establishment candidate — like Haley — from becoming the nominee if Trump is knocked out by multiple legal challenges.

“I respect the hell out of Trump. He’s the best president of the 21st century. I’ve defended him at every step against the unjust persecutions,” he said in a statement. “But open your eyes to the hard truth: This system will stop at nothing to keep this man away from the White House. Just because it’s wrong doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”

Tension had been building between Trump and Ramaswamy for weeks, according to people familiar with Trump’s thinking. Ramaswamy told NBC News earlier this month that Trump was “wounded” and it was time for the party to look for new leadership, raising the president’s ire.

But the final straw came a little more than an hour before Trump’s broadside, when Ramaswamy posted a photo on X, showing him with supporters in T-shirts saying, “Save Trump. Vote Vivek.”

(Adds background on growing tensions in final two paragraphs)

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